Rising Seas Threaten Half of US Bases: Pentagon Warned of Climate Change 52 Years Ago
April 19, 2018
Sammy Roth / USA TODAY & Dana Nuccitelli / The Guardian
Military leaders are sounding another alarm about the dangers of climate change, saying in a new report that half of US military sites have already been affected by floods, wildfires, droughts and other weather extremes that are exacerbated by rising global temperatures. It's not like the Pentagon wasn't warned: In 1965, US president Lyndon Johnson's science advisory committee sent him a report predicting climate change that was being triggered by "Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuels -- the Invisible Pollutant."
Climate Change, Extreme Weather
Already Threaten 50% of US Military Sites
Sammy Roth / USA TODAY
(January 31, 2018) -- Military leaders are sounding another alarm about the dangers of climate change, saying in a new report that half of US military sites have already been affected by floods, wildfires, droughts and other weather extremes that are exacerbated by rising global temperatures.
Following a request from Congress, the Defense Department studied climate risks to all 3,500 US military sites around the world. It found nearly 800 had been affected by droughts, 350 by extreme temperatures, 225 by storm surge-related flooding and more than 200 by wildfires, among other weather events.
Climate scientists say those types of extreme weather events have already become more common as global temperatures increase. Sea levels are rising, storms are getting more intense, dry regions are getting drier and fire seasons are getting longer, research shows.
The Defense Department's report released last week says the military "looks at climate through the lens of its mission," and that "changes in climate affect national security in several ways."
"Our warfighters require bases from which to deploy, on which to train, or to live when they are not deployed. If extreme weather makes our critical facilities unusable or necessitate costly or manpower-intensive work-arounds, that is an unacceptable impact," says the report, which was prepared by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.
That message is at odds with the Trump administration's rejection of climate change as a serious problem. Federal agencies are rolling back regulations that limit the emission of planet-warming gases like carbon dioxide, and President Trump announced plans last year to withdraw the US from an international agreement to fight climate change.
The administration didn't discuss climate impacts in its National Security Strategy, released in December, or in its National Defense Strategy, released this month -- the first time in a decade that document ignored climate change.
But military leaders -- including Trump's defense secretary, James Mattis -- continue to describe climate change as a security threat, with the ability not only to hamper military operations, but to stir up instability in already-unstable parts of the world.
Mattis told Congress during his confirmation hearing that global warming is "impacting stability in areas of the world where our troops are operating today." Researchers, for instance, have found that a severe drought helped kindle the Syrian civil war.
"The effects of a changing climate -- such as increased maritime access to the Arctic, rising sea levels, desertification, among others -- impact our security situation," Mattis said in a written response to questions from senators.
The Defense Department's new report lists several examples of extreme weather damaging military sites, including flooding from Hurricane Sandy at West Point Military Reservation in New York and Naval Weapons Station Earle in New Jersey. The report also describes erosion of a rock seawall that protects an airstrip at Cape Lisburne Long Range Radar Station in northwest Alaska, requiring a $47-million replacement project.
The report has some shortcomings, said David Titley, a retired Navy rear admiral and former top official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who now leads the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University.
For one thing, Titley said, the report doesn't examine trends over time. Military officials were asked survey questions about weather impacts to their bases over the last 30 years, meaning it's unclear how much of an effect climate change has had so far.
"I am not surprised that weather impacts have a big impact on (military) operations. I've known that ever since I've been in the Navy," Titley said. "It would have been really nice had they been able to parse this data by decades, or by five years."
The Defense Department's survey also asked about damage at military installations from extreme wind, for which there's no clear connection to climate change.
Still, Titley said the report is a strong baseline for future studies and adaptation efforts.
"This really gets to the crux of the matter, which is readiness," Titley said. "The (Department of Defense) needs to be ready to train, ready to fight. And if our bases are under increasing threat from extreme weather, then that will impair readiness."
Military leaders have long viewed climate change as a national security threat. In 2003, during the Bush administration, a Pentagon report warned that climate change could spark "a desperate need for natural resources such as energy, food and water," triggering conflicts.
A decade later, under President Obama, the Defense Department found that climate change will "aggravate existing problems -- such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions -- that threaten domestic stability in a number of countries."
Congress has tended to agree. In November, the House and Senate overwhelmingly approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which orders the defense secretary to report to Congress within a year on the 10 military installations most vulnerable to climate change, and what the military might have to do "to ensure the continued operational viability" of those bases.
The bill says three feet of sea-level rise -- near the low end of what the United States can expect by the end of this century, according to a recent federal government report -- will threaten the operations of 128 military sites.
Sammy Roth writes about climate change for USA TODAY. He can be reached at email@example.com, (760) 778-4622 and on Twitter @Sammy_Roth.
Scientists Warned Washington about Global Warming 52 Years Ago
On 5 November 1965, Climate Scientists Summarized the
Risks Associated with Rising Carbon Pollution
in a Report for President Lyndon Baines Johnson
Dana Nuccitelli / The Guardian
(November 5, 2015) -- Fifty years ago today, as the American Association for the Advancement of Science highlighted, US president Lyndon Johnson's science advisory committee sent him a report entitled Restoring the Quality of Our Environment. The introduction to the report noted:
Pollutants have altered on a global scale the carbon dioxide content of the air and the lead concentrations in ocean waters and human populations.
The report included a section on atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate change, written by prominent climate scientists Roger Revelle, Wallace Broecker, Charles Keeling, Harmon Craig, and J. Smagorisnky. Reviewing the document today, one can't help but be struck by how well these scientists understood the mechanisms of Earth's climate change 50 years ago.
The report noted that within a few years, climate models would be able to reasonably project future global surface temperature changes. In 1974, one of its authors, Wallace Broecker did just that in a paper titled Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?
You can read the details about this paper and Broecker's modeling here and in my book Climatology versus Pseudoscience. His model only included the effects of carbon dioxide and his best estimates of natural climate cycles. It didn't include the warming effects of other greenhouse gases, or the cooling effects of human aerosol pollution, but fortunately for Broecker, those two effects have roughly canceled each other out over the past 40 years.
Broecker's model predicted the global warming anticipated by 2015 both from carbon pollution alone, and when including his best estimate of natural climate cycles. In the figure below, the carbon-caused warming is shown in blue, and in combination with natural cycles (which Broecker turns out not to have represented very accurately) in green, as compared to the observed global surface temperatures from NOAA in red. As you can see, the climate model predictions from over 40 years ago turned out to be remarkably accurate.
Wallace Broecker's 1974 climate model global warming predictions vs NOAA observations
The 1965 report also debunked a number of myths that climate contrarians continue to repeat to this day. For example, the first section of the climate chapter is titled "Carbon Dioxide from Fossil Fuels -- the Invisible Pollutant."
Although the US Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is a pollutant in a landmark 2007 case, many contrarians object to this description. Nevertheless, climate scientists realized a half-century ago that human carbon emissions qualify as pollution due to the dangers they pose via climate change.
The report noted that although carbon dioxide is an invisible "trace gas" -- meaning it comprises a small percentage of the Earth's atmosphere as a whole -- it can nevertheless have significant impacts on the climate at these seemingly low levels. As the scientists wrote:
Only about one two-thousandth of the atmosphere and one ten-thousandth of the ocean are carbon dioxide. Yet to living creatures, these small fractions are of vital importance . . . Within a few short centuries, we are returning to the air a significant part of the carbon that was slowly extracted by plants and buried in the sediments during half a billion years.
Contrarians today often repeat the myths that because carbon dioxide is invisible and only a trace gas, it can't possibly cause significant climate change. This report demonstrates that scientists understood the greenhouse effect better 50 years ago than these contrarians do today.
The report documented the several different lines of evidence that prove the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is entirely human-caused, concluding:
We can conclude with fair assurance that at the present time, fossil fuels are the only source of CO2 being added to the ocean-atmosphere-biosphere system.
This is yet another fact understood by climate scientists 50 years ago that some contrarians, including a few favorite contrarian climate scientists like Roy Spencer and Judith Curry, continue to cast doubt upon to this day.
The report also projected how much the atmospheric carbon dioxide level would increase in the following decades.
Based on projected world energy requirements, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (1956) has estimated an amount of fossil fuel combustion by the year 2000 that with our assumed partitions would give about a 25 percent increase in atmospheric CO2, compared to the amount present during the 19th Century.
A 25% increase from pre-industrial levels would result in about 350 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The United Nations underestimated the growth in fossil fuel combustion, because the actual carbon dioxide level in 2000 was 370 ppm.
In addition to rising temperatures, the report discussed a variety of "other possible effects of an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide", including melting of the Antarctic ice cap, rise of sea level, warming of sea water, increased acidity of fresh waters (which also applies to the danger of ocean acidification, global warming's evil twin), and an increase in plant photosynthesis.
These climate scientists warned President Johnson in 1965 not just of the dangers associated with human-caused global warming, but also that we might eventually have to consider geoengineering the climate to offset that warming and the risks that we're causing by inadvertently running a dangerous experiment with the Earth's climate.
Through his worldwide industrial civilization, Man is unwittingly conducting a vast geophysical experiment. Within a few generations he is burning the fossil fuels that slowly accumulated in the earth over the past 500 million years . . . The climatic changes that may be produced by the increased CO2 content could be deleterious from the point of view of human beings. The possibilities of deliberately bringing about countervailing climatic changes therefore need to be thoroughly explored.
Fifty years later, the impending Paris international climate negotiations represent our last chance to heed the expert counsel about the dangers posed by human-caused climate change before we're fully committed to the deleterious consequences that climate scientists have been warning us about for a half century.
That's why more than 1,500 academics from around the world have signed an open letter asking world leaders and delegates at Paris to take vigorous action now in order to avoid a future of catastrophic global warming.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.